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Story, characters create rich, fresh Spidey flick

  • COLUMBIA PICTURES

    Tom Holland stars as the third iteration of Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”

***

(PG-13, 2:13)

“Do we really need a new Spider-Man?” It’s a refrain heard every few years, with news that yet another young actor will be taking on the role of the webbed superhero in another reboot of the beloved comic-book character. What “Spider-Man: Homecoming” proves is that while we don’t necessarily need a new one, if it’s going to be this fun and fresh, a new Spider-Man is more than welcome in our summer movie season. After his quick but memorable debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” Tom Holland once again slips into the red and blue suit to lead his own Spidey film.

One of the brilliant things about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (and there are several) is that it doesn’t even try to be an origin story, as both 2002’s “Spider-Man” and 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” did. Peter Parker bitten by a radioactive spider? It’s mentioned only in passing. All that by-now-unnecessary setup is jettisoned to get to the fun stuff.

In fact, the film starts with a callback to that infamous battle scene in “Captain America: Civil War,” when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gave the high schooler a chance to tag in with the Avengers. And remember those aliens that destroyed New York in “The Avengers”? Their exotic and powerful detritus has been scooped up by a working-class contractor, Toomes (Michael Keaton), who has been developing black-market weapons with it and proves to be a formidable local foe for Spidey.

Directed by Jon Watts, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” slots right into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hitting that on-brand fun, upbeat tone. Spidey’s story fits neatly into the larger “Avengers” timeline, as Peter tries to prove his worth as a team member to Tony Stark and his consigliere, Happy (Jon Favreau). Captain America (Chris Evans) puts in a cameo as the star of several cheesy educational videos for Peter’s high school.

What makes “Spider-Man: Homecoming” so fun isn’t the stunts or the spectacle or the superheroics, but that it’s a real high school movie, in the vein of a John Hughes classic. The actors look like real high school students in Queens (or at least the boys do) — diverse, age-appropriate, dorky. Jacob Batalon just about steals the whole movie from Tom Holland as Peter’s enthusiastic, unfiltered best friend, Ned.

Much credit goes to casting director Sarah Finn, who has stacked every role with exciting performers. Donald Glover plays a small but memorable role, and it’s fun to see him in a “Spider-Man” film after audiences rallied for his casting as the superhero several years ago. Bokeem Woodbine from “Fargo” plays a fantastic henchman, and Tony Revolori nails high school bully Flash. It’s almost too perfect to cast Keaton as the winged villain Vulture, considering his Academy-Award nominated performance in “Birdman” three years ago.

It’s the non-superhero elements of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” that make it a great movie and a nonstop-fun summer flick. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this film, packing in so many story elements and characters while finding room for small, funny asides and moments that make it an addictively rich, idiosyncratic and re-watchable movie. It delivers eye-popping spectacle in spades, but it’s the characters that make it count.

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